Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Pinecone Cake

This is Rose's Heavenly Cakes' version of a Buche de Noel; instead of turning a chocolate roulade into a log with some meringue mushrooms, this roulade is turned into a large pineconey thing with some spikes. Mine turned out less like a pinecone and more like male genitalia underneath a brown spiky blanket, but for the sake of this post I'm going to continue to pretend it was a pinecone. I shared it with the doulas, who are kind enough to let me crash the meetings every once in awhile even though I've retired from the doula life, and they didn't care that it wasn't a very good looking pinecone; they just cared that it was chocolate, and gluten-free to boot.

holiday pinecone cake

December 15, 2011
Name of Cake: Well, I can't think of a G-rated name for my cake
Occasion: Crashing the doula meeting
Constituents: Gluten-free chocolate cake rolled up with chocolate-almond ganache and covered in chocolate fondant

The original recipe is NOT gluten-free, but as there are doulas who are celiacs in the group I decided to convert the cake. The cake is a souffle-like cake, baked in a half sheet pan. It is leavened by eggs and doesn't have much flour to begin with, so it is an easy cake to convert. I don't have a pre-made gluten-free flour mix right now--I'm out of potato starch flour and keep forgetting until I need to bake something GF--so I just made it up. I would recommend using a GF flour mix--here's the Gluten-Free Girl's mix, Thomas Keller just came out with Cup4Cup, and I've mentioned the super basic mix over here in this post. There are lots of pre-made GF baking four mixes out there in the markets and internets, so you've got LOTS of options. I remember back in the early 2000s there were almost NO options, so today's GF scene looks pretty damn great.

Anyways, back to the cake. I regret I have no process photos; this is one of those cakes where all the construction would benefit from some process pics. Alas.

The cake is a simple roulade. There are several of them in RHC and it involves some tricky egg organizing. In one mixer bowl all the yolks and half the whites and all but a tablespoon of sugar are mixed until thick and fluffy. The flour(s) are sifted and folded in, then the cocoa paste, and this bowl is set aside. In the second mixer bowl, the remaining egg whites are beat until soft peaks, the tablespoon of sugar is mixed in, and then all is beat to a stiff meringue. The meringue is folded into the other stuff, the batter is spread out in the half sheet pan, and baked for about 7 minutes. When the cake is finished baking, it needs to be rolled up while it cools.

The ganache filling is a basic ganache, with the addition of chopped toasted almonds. The recipe calls for whole almonds that you roughly chop, but I had slivered so that's what I used. Like most ganache, it needs several hours to set up. I put it back in my unheated storage room to hasten the process.

Once the ganache is ready, you spread most of it over the unrolled and cooled cake. Then you roll the cake back up and at an angle, you cut the sides of one end so that the roll comes sort of to a point (but not so severely). Those two cut pieces are spackled onto the other end of the roll to make the cake more like a triangle than a log, or rather more like a pinecone than a log.

holiday pinecone cake
this slice is from the top of the pinecone--look closely and you can see the two spackled-on pieces on either side of the actual roll

The rest of the ganache is spread over the top and sides of the cake, and your naked pinecone looking thing goes into the refrigerator to firm up.

The last ingredient of this cake is the chocolate fondant. I have been avoiding making fondant since I read Rose's recipe for chocolate fondant in The Cake Bible almost ten years ago. It just seemed so foreign, and once I tasted a cake draped in (regular, not chocolate) fondant I decided there was no need to learn how to make such unappetizing stuff. Face it people, I don't care how pretty that shit looks on a cake; if you have to peel it off to actually enjoy said cake it doesn't belong there in the first place. So it was that I would have continued to avoid making fondant for the rest of my life if I hadn't joined the Rose's Heavenly Cakes bake-through and then got all serious about truly baking every single cake in the book. Why do I have to be so literal?

So late last night I took a huge breath and tackled chocolate fondant. First up, gelatin is softened in a little bit of water in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. The cup is then placed in a pan of simmering water so that the gelatin can dissolve. Then corn syrup and glycerin are added, except I didn't have any glycerin so I skipped it. The shortening is added to this cup and stirred around until it melts. After this, the measuring cup of stuff is pulled from the simmering water and the vanilla is added. In another bowl, a ton of powdered sugar and some cocoa powder are whisked together and the cup of stuff is poured in. Rose says to stir with a wooden spoon which is a good idea because this mix is stiff, but all my wooden spoons smell like onions so I used a silicone spatula.

The fun part comes when you get to put on a pair of food prep gloves and knead the fondant until it becomes a smooth, pliable, shiny mass. I added some extra water because the fondant seemed a little dry but otherwise it came together pretty well. The fondant prefers an overnight in the refrigerator to evenly distribute the moisture, so I wrapped it up and put it to bed. This morning, I rolled it out between plastic wrap and draped it over the cake. I didn't do the most fabulous job of rolling out the fondant as it didn't cover the ends of the cake, but a patch job got the ends covered adequately. Then the fondant needs to be cut into Vs and the ends curled up to mimic the spikes on a pinecone. This takes some time but one you get a rhythm going, and once you remember that the doulas don't care what it looks like because it will be chocolate and they will eat it, the spikes move along pretty quickly.

holiday pinecone cake

I gave it a quick dust of powdered sugar then it was time to head out. I got there a little late so the meeting was already in progress, but the news of chocolate cake spread like wildfire around the room. Soon the meeting deteriorated into minor chaos as doulas were getting up left and right to get cake and have little side conversations. I felt a little bad, but also quite amused. Never come between a doula and chocolate cake. Eventually the meeting got back on track and everything was fine. The celiac doulas were happy to have cake. I was happy to be amongst some of my favorite people, and to be able to pass another Heavenly Cake onto others.

The cake is deeply richly chocolaty, and like most roulades, the cake component gets lost amongst all the ganache. The chocolate fondant was not only easy to make, but it tastes pretty decent. This was a good chocolate bomb, but next time I want to make the traditional yule log instead.

I mentioned to the doulas how grateful I was that they let me still crash meetings, and the general reply was, "its because you bring cake." That is a small price to pay to spend time with such wonderful women.

holiday pinecone cake

Marie has the funniest post about her pinecone cake, plus all the process photos you'd want. Please go take a look! Here's the Last Cake, Next cake roundup; only eight bakers including Marie tackled the Pinecone, and we gave Lois a hearty welcome!

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Roundup of RHC Wedding Cakes

For the grand finale of the second round of the RHC bake-through, Jenn gave us the option of baking any of the wedding cakes in the book. At first I think many of us were wondering how to gather 100-150 people to eat a three-tier wedding cake, but later Jenn specified we could bake any one of the three layers.

I think this will be the first and last time I will lazily point to my previous efforts in this category, instead of skipping the week altogether or baking something new. I hope you will forgive me for simply doing a round-up.


Brains' Deep Chocolate Passion Birthday Cake

I made the 9-inch version of this cake for my friend Brains' birthday in April 2010. The only modification I made was to use my favorite raspberry ganache instead of the regular ganache called for in the recipe. My lacquer glaze was a bit thick when I poured it over the cake, so I needed to smooth it out with an offset spatula. Brains waxed poetic about the lacquer glaze, and loved the contrast between the milk chocolaty insides and the dark chocolaty outsides.


Sam and Andrea's Wedding Cake

This is the 12 inch tier of the Golden Dream Wedding Cake, for the bottom tier of Sam and Andrea's wedding cake this past July 2011. This is when I finally accepted that my little 4 quart KitchenAid cannot successfully mix the batter for a two layer, 12 inch cake. Although I filled the cake with the White Chocolate Lemon Buttercream called for in the recipe, I frosted with Italian Meringue Buttercream. People were initially hesitant about this cake layer, but once they tried it they loved it! I got asked if I was single and hitting the after party after one guy tried this layer, and one of the photographers exclaimed, "how can it be so dense and yet so light?!" I know, how does Rose do it?

I also made the 6 inch layer of the Deep Chocolate Passion Wedding Cake--but filled it with Midnight Ganache and frosted with Italian Meringue Buttercream.

Sam and Andrea's Wedding Cake

I have had a wonderful two years participating in this bake-through. The techniques I have learned, the complicated cakes I never would have attempted have made me a better and more confident baker. Most enjoyable, however, was sharing this journey with so many amazing bakers. I have loved looking at and reading about all of our adventures in heavenly cake baking--our beautiful successes, our brilliant modifications, and our witty write-ups. We've watched kitchen remodels, babies grow into children, couples get engaged and married, and it wouldn't have happened without Rose, Marie, and Jenn. Virtual cakey hugs to you all--see you for Rose's Baking Bible bake-through!

(If you, like me, feel this is such an anti-climatic way to go out, don't worry. I still have THREE cakes left in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, and I will finish! I promise!)

Friday, December 02, 2011


I was really looking forward to Rose's Tiramisu as it is one of my favorite desserts. All that creamy deliciousness! Sadly, my creamy deliciousness never thickened up and remains a very rich and yummy runny mess.

(Subpar) Tiramisu

November 16, 2011
Name of Cake: A Yummy Runny Mess
Occasion: HCB
Constituents: espresso-soaked savioardi biscuits sort of layered with a improper zabaglione/mascarpone mixture and heavily dusted with cocoa powder

A proper Tiramisu, for those who aren't in the know, should be layers of ladyfingers lightly soaked in espresso, layered with a thick and creamy substance that is partly egg yolks, sugar and marsala wine (a sweet wine) heated and whipped until thick and foamy, mixed with mascarpone cheese which is a triple-cream cream cheese (less tangy than a regular cream cheese), and lastly folded into whipped cream (or actually the whipped cream is folded into the other stuff).

I have made Tiramisu a couple of times before, both times using sheets of gluten-free biscuit instead of ladyfingers. The creamy mix was from Anna Maria's Open Kitchen. There are lots of nice how-to photos in that post if you are interested. With the second of the two cakes, the insides were perfectly creamy and thick. Sigh.

First off, you either need to bake a batch of ladyfingers, or buy some savioardi biscuits at the store. At first I was planning on baking my own ladyfingers, but when I counted up the eggs needed for both ladyfingers and tiramisu filling it came to at least 14 eggs! That's more eggs than you can shake a stick at, so I decided to just buy the biscuits and call it good.

Next up, the zabaglione. This is the egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine, which is whipped up to a thick and frothy custard. In these bacteria-laden times, the yolks need to be gently heated to 165°F. Rose suggests the double boiler method, but also says if you have an unlined copper bowl, you can put that straight on a low flame and heat the eggs that way. I have such a bowl, thanks to my mother who bought it during her copper phase in the 1970's. I have an electric stove, and I needed to turn the heat up to almost medium-low before the yolks started to heat up. This all took a lot longer than the five minutes recommended in the book, and the mixture went from light and fluffy to sticky and deflated by the time the eggs were up to temperature. Alas.

This mixture needs to cool down to room temperature before the mascarpone and whipped cream can be added, so in the meantime I got the espresso ready. A little bit of the marsala and some sugar are added to take the edge off the bitterness, and half of it is poured into a shallow dish for dipping.

I couldn't find imported mascarpone (in retrospect, I didn't look that hard), so used what I could find. The mascarpone is beat until creamy, then the custard is mixed in, then a little vanilla. In a separate bowl, heavy cream is whipped to stiff peaks with sugar and vanilla. The whipped cream is folded into the cheesy-egg stuff and there you have it: tiramisu filling!

(Subpar) Tiramisu

The ladyfingers are quickly dipped into the espresso--enough to soften the outsides but not make the cookies soggy--and are used to line the bottom of a pan. This recipe originally calls for one 9x13 inch dish, but I decided to gift most of it to Cookie and her family for Thanksgiving next week. (The tiramisu can be refrigerated for three day or frozen for three months before serving.) I used a 9x9 inch dish to give away, and a loaf pan for myself. After lining the bottom of the pan(s) with soaked ladyfingers, half the cheese mixture gets spread on top. I became really concerned about the state of my cheesy stuff when instead of spreading, it poured, in a very liquidy way, over the bottom of the pan. Now it was time to lay down the second layer of soaked biscuits and the top layer of cheese. Things were so liquidy that some of the ladyfingers floated up to the top of the dish when I was sprinkling the tops with cocoa powder.

I sighed a heavy sigh, muttered several choice curse words, wrapped my two pans of stuff in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.

The next morning I tried some of the tiramisu. Definitely soupy. Pretty darn good. I can't taste the espresso however and that bums me out. Despite being a runny mess it is still enjoyable, especially with a cup of coffee.

Tongiht I tried another little bit and the stuff seems a tad firmer, but still really loose. I'm not sure what I'll do with the larger pan. I'm not too keen on giving it to Cookie to serve to her family since it is subpar. But I can't eat an entire tiramisu myself. Perhaps I will freeze it for another day. (ETA: I froze it.)

I can't remember what my previous tiramisus tasted like. I liked them, but was it better than this version? (Provided I made this version correctly.) I would like to try this recipe again and hopefully do a better job, and maybe if I am inspired (and have a ton of eggs) I'll make the other recipe and compare.

(Subpar) Tiramisu

Here's Marie's perfect Tiramisu which was before the group bake-through, so there's no Last Cake, Next Cake roundup.